Apr 22

What would a 21st Century “Lesson Plan” look like?

A cartoon-like self portrait Richard did in Corel Draw 3 while in teacher educationIn teachers’ college, I was the Lesson Plans guy. I had blue-rimmed glasses, hair down to my shoulders, I wore sweater vests, and one of the first things I ever did on the Internet was to share lesson plans. One of the first collaborative projects I was ever part of—using what began as a Scarborough (Ontario) Board of Education software initiative and remains with us today as OpenText’s FirstClass—to create lessons to be tried, honed and re-shared by other teacher candidates. I quite enjoyed that activity, and I think it’s time to do it again, with the rest of the Internet.

There was collaboration on line long before words like “blog,” “wiki,” “social network were coined…”

But Intranets were closed, connections were slow, hardware was expensive and there weren’t a lot of people who owned technology—even fewer who used it well in classrooms.

We had a template, we discussed it together, tried them in our host classrooms adapted and applied it iteratively, worked lessons into integrated units, collaboratively, in practice. Master teachers contributed advice—or innovative projects to extend lessons into —but it was all entirely student-instigated, student-designed, and/or student “moderated.”

Our activities were facilitated by technology, but they were pedagogical activities.

We knew the Web had power, we wanted to be literate—we wanted to read and write the web.

A button I made from a GIF created in Corel Draw 3.0Technology was there to support an idea or activity, and when an expert was needed to make the technology work it was “facilitating a situation” and “enhancing the learning environment”, not “directing technology.” In every situation it was student-centered. But we were also teachers: of the students in our host classrooms, often of our host teachers—always of ourselves, always of each other. We call reading and writing, “literacies,” and we generally expect to acquire them in great part by a process sometimes called “schooling,” but we see that it doesn’t always work, and in fact can often be gained by “learning” in other ways, generally not called “schooling.”

Fast Forward to the 21st Century

The Internet is open, connections are fast, hardware is less expensive and there are many more people who own technology—and still, we hear, too few who use it well in classrooms. This kind of learning is messy.

Video is ubiquitous… but not very interactive… they said

Teaching the Web in the 20-teens looks different in some ways, others not so much. Popcorn.js is an exciting set of modular scripts that add interactivity and creativity to web video.

Games and Gaming

Storytelling is a primeval human activity that is quite fundamental to pedagogy. All games tell stories. Learners persevere with games; learning happens. Gamification is an immensely important trend “as a means of motivation and learner engagement” and Conole quotes Gee, 2008: “The potential of gamification, however, goes beyond promoting healthy lifestyles and marketing strategies. Gamers voluntarily invest countless hours in developing their problem-solving skills within the context of games” and says 21st century learning will reflect Gee’s ‘situated and embodied learning,’ “…meaning a student is not just being taught inert knowledge, rather using facts and information as tools for problem solving in a specific context and solving the problem (Gee 2011).”

“There’s an app for that”

Educational apps and the platforms they run on have changed. Mobile is ubiquitous and it’s not as hard as you may think to make a web-based app, even take it to the next level, make it native. The Open Educational Resource (OER) movement is founded on “The belief that everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, improve and redistribute educational resources without constraint, […] However, open education is not limited to just open educational resources. It also draws upon open technologies that facilitate collaborative, flexible learning and the open sharing of teaching practices that empower educators to benefit from the best ideas of their colleagues.” Read the Cape Town Open Education Declaration.

Learning design looks beyond instructional design

Learning design is defined as an application of a pedagogical model for a specific learning objective, target group and a specifc context or knowledge domain. The learning design specifies the teaching and learning process, along with the conditions under which it occurs and the activites performed by the teachers and learners in order to achieve the required learning objectives. LD is based on the metaphor of learning as a play instatiated through a series of acts with associated roles and resources. The core concept of LD is that a person is assigned a role in the teaching-learning process and works towards certain outcomes by performing learning activities within a given environment
—G. Conole, K. Fill (2005, pg. 5)

Learning design is an holistic praxis (Conole, 2014), the planning and executing of serendipitous situations within authentic contexts, that are controlled to enable the sought outcomes (Silver, 2011). Increasingly, the learner seeks the outcome. A learning design that includes multiple participants is increasingly expected to cater to individual learners (blogosphere, incessantly).

The Learning Design Toolkit has explored and created collaborative tools for designing active, situated learning. The short clip, (originally part of my contribution to a group presentation on cyberethics and Ursula Franklin) is meant to imply that the hard work of building shared understanding is generally worth the inevitable extra effort. Communication is a 21st century competency—why would the hard work to reform schooling be any different?

21st-century lesson plan learning design

I believe Aaron Silver, in his 2011 blog post The Fundamental design of learning activities, plotted a straight course from instructional design practices that seem overly prescriptive in the age of social networking and on-demand learning objects, to a more appropriate framework and in doing so reminded us, “learning is not a noun.” In a 21st-century learning design the activity must be at the center of everything. It appears you should start with a clear idea of what is to be achieved, and then create the situation in which that can happen, choosing participants and experiences that support the intended outcomes, and strategically placing them in order.

Graphic. Activity at the center of boundaries (conditions), content, context, and participation. 

Source—Aaron Silvers (2011)

Even documenting such activity can be much different in the 21st Century. How do video, blogs, and photo sites affect the recipe? 21st century activities might look like Heidi Siwak’s blog—like this. But if the ‘this’ is a “messy” learning activity, do a on an ‘app’ metaphor, or the bubbles of mind maps offer some helpful closets to stash our ‘mess?’

Can organizational change happen quickly enough to allow teachers such as Heidi, and students such as hers to flourish, or will she have to wait 15 years as others have?

In my post, “CompendiumLD for Learning Design,” I showed a “mind mapper” that has collaboration tools built in. In “Can (messy) mind maps enable tidy linear strategies within messy situations?” I show the danger of getting too thickly into context (top right image) and what I believe Aaron Silvers’s simple graphic becomes when you start adding real activities and participants (see images 1-6, created with another mind mapper, designVUE).

Image. mind map



Michael Faustino Deineka

The Faculty of Education at York University


Collins, Allan; Brown, John Seely; and Holum, Ann (1989a), Cognitive Apprenticeship: Making Thinking Visible, American Educator [PDF].

Conole, G.; Fill, K. (2005), A learning design toolkit to create pedagogically effective learning activities, Journal of Interactive Media in Education 2005(08). [PDF]

Conole, Gráinne (2014) Reviewing the trajectories of e-learning, blogged chapter from forthcoming publication. Or start with my shorter overview [HTML]

Silvers, A. (2011) The fundamental design of learning activities. [HTML]

Siwak, H. (2014) Creative solutions are no accident [HTML]

Feb 16

For Best of Both: Blend it

This post was prompted by a tweet from @rkiker that linked to an ongoing debate between Justin Marquis Ph.D. (pro) and Donald R. Eastman (con) on whether or not online learning is “the real thing.” I would prefer, for the most part, to ignore this debate: of course many individuals will learn via “distance education” (which, as people my age recall, long predates electronic means). Any either/or framing does little justice to either argument. The issue should be how to maximize learning for the greatest number of learners. I assert that an approach which blends face-to-face (F2F) instruction with the types of asynchronous? access both authors are talking about is a superior pedagogical model.

Canada’s Collaboration for Online Higher Education and Research (COHERE ) is “a collaboration of universities focusing on the research and practice of blended and online learning within higher education.” In their 2011 Report on Blended Learning they report findings from a survey of the current use of “blended learning” in Canadian universities. Listed are the many benefits they see emerging, including “improved teaching and learning, greater flexibility for learners, greater student satisfaction, improved student performance, a confluence of literacies for the knowledge economy, and optimization of resources,” and some barriers to adoption, for example, “faculty resistance, student reluctance to move from a passive to an active student role, insufficient pedagogical and technical support, and absence of a clear institutional policy and strategic plan and appropriate leadership to support and sustain blended learning initiatives.” As the report puts it, “Despite these barriers blended learning at Canadian universities continues to grow.” Certainly none of these factors, nor the phenomenon of growth, are limited to Canada.

On page 5 the report describes a graduate course in education offered at York University entitled “Issues in Digital Technology in Education,” and describes its innovative blending with the undergraduate course “Teaching and Learning with Digital Technology.” I took this course in 2011 as a Master’s candidate and participated in the “mentoring” of undergraduates. The report’s summary about the structure of the courses and mutual satisfaction of participants is absolutely accurate. This remains perhaps the most rewarding course I’ve taken as a graduate student. Page 5 also refers to a Provostial White Paper (PDF). The class read the paper in depth and debated both sides—should York expand on this model or not?

Among the course assignments was a collaborative presentation on an issue in digital technology in education, and I was in the group that presented on blended learning; I’m familiar with the topic. I agree with Donald R. Eastman on nearly every point he makes, but most emphatically with the statement, “[Students] benefit most from participating in learning communities, in which they live, study and socialize with other learners.” See for example, Wenger (2006), Smith (1999) and Cousin (2006) in order to better appreciate the importance of this point. Justin Marquis is correct that online environments can be as supportive as any other, but the overall slant of his argument seems to be the reduced cost and added convenience, and I find the entire section “Growing Up is Hard to Do” utterly condescending. His piece, employing as it does the language of disruptive innovation that has its roots in Harvard Business School (Fouchaux, 2009), comes off as a sales pitch, and his call for a truce sounds more like a declaration of victory.

What is blended learning?

The task of defining “blended learning” has been undertaken by many, but we’re still having some trouble with consensus (Osguthorpe & Graham, 2003). The York White Paper qualifies blended as follows: “Typically a course is considered to be blended if the online component varies between 30% and 80% of the total course time.” (e-Learning working group, 2010, p.8).

Diagrams can be helpful… here you can see dozens. For our class presentation I created this one, which is more metaphorical: students and instructors can blend many different ingredients of learning and teaching, and play with the recipe until they get the mix that tastes best.

Picture of a blender in the background, containing words from pedagogy, and a glass in the foreground containing the words "meaning, critical thinking" and others.

Blend ingredients, sweeten to taste

First, some people would learn regardless of whether they ever went anywhere near a course. Indeed it has been argued in some quarters that old‐fashioned models of ʺtime‐servingʺ on‐the‐job apprenticeships represent the best way of learning skills (and the knowledge which underpins them).

Second, disciplines and subjects are very different. There is no single curriculum design which will suit all of them, even in terms of their values. I want a fine artist to be creative; I donʹt want my pharmacist to be at all creative; whether or not I want my accountant to be creative is a matter for debate!

Third, trying to create a course on the basis of all these competences leads to what is vividly called a ʺstuffed curriculumʺ. Not everything it contains is of equal value, but nothing gets thrown out.

—James Atherton (2007)

I’m not calling for a truce, I’m suggesting a marriage.


Atherton, James (2007) How do people “get” it? Web, UK [http://www.doceo.co.uk/tools/On_getting.pdf] retrieved October 3, 2011.

Cousin, G. (2006) An introduction to threshold concepts http://www.gees.ac.uk/planet/p17/gc.pdf, retrieved January 27, 2012.

e-Learning working group (2010), E-Learning Business Case For York University, http://irlt.yorku.ca/reports/E-learningcasefinalversion.pdf, retrieved June 23, 2011.

Fouchaux, Richard C. (2009) Disrupting disruption: how the language of disruptive innovation theory and the “tools of cooperation and change” can change the way educators respond to the neoliberal marketization of education (unpublished essay) http://www.rcfouchaux.ca/pdf/Fouchaux_(2009)_Disrupting_Disruption.pdf

Osguthorpe, Russell T.; Graham, Charles R. (2003), Blended Learning Environments: Definitions and Directions, Quarterly Review of Distance Education, v4 n3 p227-33 Fall 2003.

Smith, M. K. (1999) ‘The social/situational orientation to learning’, the encyclopedia of informal education, www.infed.org/biblio/learning-social.htm, Last update: December 01, 2011.

Wenger, E. (2006) Communities of practice, a brief introduction, http://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/06-Brief-introduction-to-communities-of-practice.pdf, retrieved October 12, 2011.

Further reading/Viewing

Alonso, F., López, G., Manrique, D. & Viñes, J. (2005). An instructional model for
web-based e-learning education with a blended learning process
approach. British Journal of Educational Technology, 36(2), 217-235.

Butler, J. (2010). 24/7 Online Learning: Lessons Learned. Techniques: Connecting Education
and Careers, 85(6), 32-35.

Chicago Virtual Charter School. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.k12.com/cvcs/home

e-Learning Fundamentals: Didactical models retrieved from
http://www.leerbeleving.nl/wbts/1/didactical_models.html 2011-05-31

Kolb D.A. (1984). Experiential Learning experience as a source of learning and
development. New Jersey: Prentice Hall

Professional Advisory: Electronic Communication, Social Media from Ontario College of Teachers Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iMLjqIptBc

McCarthy, J. (2010). Blended Learning Environments: Using Social Networking Sites to
Enhance the First Year Experience. Australasian Journal of Educational
Technology, 26(6), 729-740.
Pape, L. (2010). Blended Teaching and Learning. Education Digest, 76(2), 22-27.

Thor, L. (2010). The Right Mix. Community College Journal, 81(1), 38-43.